Have you ever looked up from your life and wondered at your own resilience?
Do you associate certain self-care habits with your ability to thrive in this modern life? This past year was one of the most personally challenging I’ve yet experienced. Looking back, I’m astonished that the stress of it just sort of bounced right off of me, and I credit some of my seemingly innocuous daily habits with playing a big role in my resistance to stress and its nasty affects.
I’ve been drinking tea made from the tulsi herb for the last year, and I believe this tea has had a significant affect on my well-being. I was looking for a peppermint tea when I found Organic India’s Tulsi Peppermint Tea. The information on the box described tulsi as a sacred, healing herb that fights stress, and the little herbalist in me got excited. Before I get to the health benefits, let me say that this tea is truly delicious. Tulsi has a touch of sweetness that peeks through the true peppermint flavor. The taste and scent are relaxing and refreshing. I’ve been through countless boxes of it now and drink it several times a day.
Tulsi is sometimes called holy basil because it’s part of the basil genus and has spiritual significance in India. It’s widely used in Ayurvedic medicine as a healing herb that clears the body of toxins and restores balance. It lifts spirits (true!) and acts as a serious nerve tonic. Tulsi contains loads of anti-oxidants and phytochemicals that boost the immune system and assist the body’s natural process of healing. Tulsi’s anti-inflammatory properties also make it good for digestive disorders, as does the peppermint in this blend.
But if you ask me, the coolest thing about tulsi is that it’s an adaptogen.
An adaptogen is any herb that supports a systemic resistance to stress and stressors and has a normalizing affect on the body. For example, Asparagus racemosus, or Shatavari in Ayurvedic medicine, is a rejuvenating adaptogen that tends to lower estrogen levels when they are too high and raise estrogen levels when they are too low. Adaptogens help create a state of balance in the body. They are innocuous and do not influence the body more than necessary.
But how can plants be so smart? Well, when all of an herb’s hundreds of molecules are present, they work synergistically to offer long-term balance. This is the opposite of a pharmaceutical drug, which has no way to balance itself or remain innocuous. The tulsi tea I drink uses the whole herb, which allows it to reach its full potential as an adaptogen. I put a lot of stock into this herb and tea. I felt the affects of tulsi long before I actually researched the power of this plant. My body intuitively craved it, which is the true test of efficacy in my book.
Have you tried tulsi? What herbal teas have improved your health?
Mais oui, according to a new study.
We told you a few weeks ago that thyme has been shown to be more effective than benzoyl peroxide—that skin-destroying ingredient that, in my opinion, totally doesn’t work if you’re over the age of 15. Many of you jumped with joy (which is to say posted comments about how awesome that is), and now we have even more interesting news: Rose essential oils can block the effects of stress on skin when inhaled—not applied topically.
This is the kind of research that gets me excited. As anyone with skin woes can tell you, the impulse to reach for a product to fix the problem is tough to beat. Unfortunately, as we’ve said many times, this doesn’t do much for you in a big-picture way. It’s the old “treating the symptoms, not the condition” thing. When it comes to just about everything, and especially our skin, this kind of spot treating (ha) does not work. Or if it does, it doesn’t work for long.
Rose has been shown—in a human and rat study—to significantly inhibit cortisol, the stress hormone that causes inflammation (which causes zits). It also blunted transepidermal water loss, which happens when your skin’s barrier function is compromised.
Or you can seek out a potion that contains rose and huff the stuff when you’re stressed. Here’s some things that are worth knowing about aromatherapy:
1. Not all oils are created equal. The tidy rows of bottles you see lining the counter at health food stores? Not what you’re looking for. To work, essential oils need to be super-concentrated and carefully crafted, and when they are, they are incredibly powerful for your mind, body and your spirit. Many of these plants and flowers have incontrovertible evidence supporting their use to heal us, but you’re not going to get these benefits unless you’re working with high-quality oils. That means organic, wild crafted and, ideally, made in small batches.
2. You can use them anywhere, anytime. I basically always have aromatherapy and flower essences in my handbag, as anyone who’s been to a bar with me can attest. (I like dosing people whether they ask for it or, as with our friend Erika, violently protest.) I also keep some on my desk at work, which many a coworker has gotten in the habit of popping by to borrow. This makes me happy.
3. Understand that they can seriously affect your mood. This is important! Essential oils should not be used willy-nilly. The sleep potions I use, for instance, feel almost narcotic when I take them (looking at you Hope Gillerman and Essence of Vali). But investing in high-quality oils can be an amazingly effective (and completely drug-free) way to reduce stress, sleep better, and even look better.
Different ways to use them:
—Drip a few drops on a tissue and hold it to your nose taking 10 deep, meditative breaths.
—Put a few drops on your hand and rub them together, warming the oil and releasing the fragrance. Cup your hands over your nose and inhale as above. Remember that oils are super-concentrated, and can irritate or even burn the skin if you use too much. You may be better off skipping this approach altogether, though I’d be lying if I said this isn’t what I usually do.
—Put four or five drops in the bath for a sinus—and stress—clearing bath.
—Bring it with you in the shower and apply a few drops to your hands, rub them together and pretend you’re at a spa.
—Dab a few drops on the corner of your pillowcase at bedtime.
Have you ever tried rose essential oils?
When my insomnia hit the other night, I did everything wrong.
I’d managed to work myself up about something before bed, but because I have the stamina of a toddler when I’m upset, I tired myself out quickly and crashed hard around 11:30pm. Then, at 4:30am, my brain went on like a light. There I was, in that strange time when “tonight” becomes “tomorrow” and the last thing in the world you should be doing is witnessing it. (Unless of course you’re doing something really fun—which I wasn’t. I was lying there with looping thoughts, the lights on, a search window open on my laptop, and Twitter fired up on my phone…)
We have written plenty about sleep hygiene here. We polled you once to find out how much you sleep (a lot!); we asked you guys to share your bedtime rituals with us (they were great!); we’ve explored how sleep can help your looks (duh); and we’ve covered ayurvedic principles about sleep before, as well.
But isn’t it funny (dumb) that no matter how much you know about the Right Thing To Do for your wellbeing, it’s often exactly when you need that advice the most that it escapes you?
With that in mind, here’s a primer, filled with things you already know, on the best and worst things to do when you can’t sleep. Obviously this advice is highly subjective. Where appropriate, we’ve mentioned some actual science to back us up. And, as always, we want your tips in the comments.
1. Tweeting, emailing, checking your stocks, approving comments on your blog etc. Research shows that light-emitting devices can suppress the production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin—which means when you wake up to check your cell, or simply have it on blinking at you from the bedside table, you’re sending signals to your brain that it isn’t time to chill out. Turn them off, use airplane mode, or put them on the other side of the room. When you wake up, try your best not to check them.
2. Watching scary TV shows. I can’t watch scary things at night anymore without getting nightmares and waking up a lot. Granted I’m on the sensitive side (cough), but there is good research that shows how disruptive this can be. It can spike stress hormones in the body and put you in an excited state (not the good kind) that doesn’t bode well for rest. Some people can watch anything before bed and fall asleep, but if you wake up in the middle of the night and decide to flip on the tube, maybe don’t try to catch up on a season’s worth of Boardwalk Empire?
3. Turning on the light. This actually can be a good thing (see below), but in general, if you wake up and have to pee or you stand a chance of falling back asleep fairly quickly, don’t turn on the lights or lift up your black-out blinds. (You all have black-out blinds, right? If not, you should! They’re super cheap at Ikea and make a world of difference.) For the same reasons you want to avoid electronics, you also want to avoid turning on the lights: It tells your brain that it’s time to be awake by suppressing sleep hormones. Pas bon.
4. Drinking booze. We’ve all seen the research about nightcaps actually disrupting sleep, and here’s why: It robs you of REM and the other, deeper stages of sleep—which are the ones that make you feel most rested. A glass or two of wine can make you feel nice and relaxed, and that can be sleep-promoting, but drinking too close to bedtime (not to mention in the middle of the night) should probably be avoided.
5. Just lying there freaking out. If you’re past the point of no return—meaning you can just tell you won’t be falling back asleep any time soon—do something else. You can go ahead and break rule number 3 here. Get up and do something, anything, until you feel sleepy again.
1. A cup of herbal tea or some aromatherapy. Many herbs—chamomile, lavender, valerian root—have been shown in research (and by wise grandmothers) to make you sleepy. Similarly, jasmine has a sedative effect when inhaled, as do Hope Gillerman’s Sleep Remedy and Essence of Vali’s. Just be sure to do your research and/or check with your doctor before you start dosing yourself. Nature makes some very powerful plants
2. Reading something you’ve read before. This works wonders for me. A yogi and a nerdy scholar at heart, I have been rereading The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali for years now. Here’s why it works: When you read things you are already familiar with, it doesn’t stimulate your mind with new information the way an exciting novel or a piece of nonfiction would. In fact, it has the opposite effect of comforting you with information you already possess, and, well, kind of boring you.
3. Meditate. A tough sell at 4am, I know, but it helps quiet the mind and ready you for more sleep. Our tips are here—and the compassion meditation is an especially nice one to do because it puts your focus on people you love. You could also try listening to recordings of meditations by Pema Chodron (or someone else, but man is she good). You can break rule number 1, above, for this one, obviously.
4. Do some yoga. Nothing too vigorous, but some poses have been shown to promote sleepiness. There’s a nice list over here.
5. Wake up your buddy and chat and/or have sex. This requires a forgiving and generous significant other, but if you have one, and you know they won’t mind hearing what’s on your mind and helping you simmer down, this can be very helpful. As for sex, just bear in mind that for some people, sex is sleep inducing (for example, every single man who ever walked the earth*) and for others it’s sleep inhibiting.
6. Pretend it’s already tomorrow. If you’re really stuck, try pretending it’s not 4am but 8am and it’s time to get ready for work or school. Take a shower, brush your teeth, drink some water—but be sure to skip the coffee. It sounds nuts but this has worked for me! At some point, when you’re going through the motions, something in your mind will click and you’ll think: “This is totally insane. I should be asleep right now.” And then maybe, just maybe, you will be.
Your turn! What are your tips: What’s the best—and worst—things one can do when one can’t sleep?
* I kid! Sort of.
Fire up the kettle! Siobhan tweeted this study the other day, and I’m just tickled by it. It turns out that good old black tea—something I quite enjoy (for all you vegan challengers, I recommend trying it with some coconut milk for creamy deliciousness)—is just as hydrating as water.
Conventional wisdom says that caffeinated beverages are diuretics, i.e. that they cause water loss. But in research conducted on 21 male subjects—females weren’t used because of how menstrual cycles influence water retention (tell me about it, right?)—and controlled for all kinds of variables, it appears that tea is just as good as water when it comes to keeping us hydrated. The outcome according to the study abstract:
It was concluded that black tea, in the amounts studied, offered similar hydrating properties to water.
You might be thinking (as I was): How can that be? Drinking tea and coffee makes me pee all morning long! But then I realized something: Drinking anything makes me pee. Deep thoughts, I know.
So, have you avoided caffeinated tea because you’re worried about dehydration? Pass the cucumber sandwiches.
A tea party we can get behind: image via
A bunch of Germans—why are they always out front on this stuff?—tested fragrances to see if they had any tangible effects on brain chemistry. Most of them did not, but jasmine? Big oui. It’s being called the first scientific proof that aromatherapy works.
From The Week:
Researchers … have concluded that the smell of Jasmine is just as effective as Valium—at least, on lab mice. Could doctors someday prescribe a daily whiff of this fragrant flower?
I mean, if they’re smart they will, am I right?